Milo Yiannopoulos’s appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher on February 18 included many of his shit-raking trademarks: brazen indignation, smugness, and a clear intent to offend. Larry Wilmore summed up the panel’s response to Yiannopoulos’s insults with a terse and effective “fuck you.”
Just days after this controversial appearance, a video of Yiannopoulos endorsing sexual relations with boys as young as 13 surfaced online, eliciting widespread condemnation from people across the political spectrum. Among his remarks, he joked about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and defended “coming-of-age relationships” between younger boys and older men. “Pedophilia is attraction to children who have not reached puberty,” he said in one particularly incendiary moment, implying that 13-year-olds are not children. Yuck.
It is easy to hate Yiannopoulos, but this past Monday’s media storm over his pedophilia remarks should not be applauded. The fact is, there should be no cause for celebration that the reason conservatives started to dislike Yiannopoulos is because he is now the actualization of their worst fears about gay men. The cancellation of his book, his dis-invitation to CPAC, and most recently his resignation from Breitbart, speak to the apparently prevailing notion in some conservative circles that homosexuality and pedophilia are somehow inextricably linked.
The myth linking homosexuality and pedophilia is disturbing and unfortunately pervasive despite its questionable origins. In 2000, a conservative opinion writer wrote an “in-depth exploration of pedophilia, homosexuality and the Boy Scouts of America” for the radically conservative site WorldNetDaily. The author argued that gay people should not be allowed to lead Boy Scout troops because “[m]any homosexuals are attracted to young boys, they fantasize about young boys, they frequent websites about young boys, they cruise the streets for young boys, and they volunteer as Boy Scout leaders in an attempt to have sex with young boys.”
While this opinion was written for a political publication that is rarely taken seriously, the opinions spouted by the author seriously pervade our society. As recently as 2009, a Pew Research Center poll found that 28 percent of people in the country believe that school boards should have the right to fire “teachers who are known homosexuals.” Two competing narratives could be behind this statistic: one is that homosexuals are a corrupting influence on children and the other is that gay teachers will inevitably be attracted to their younger students. Although this belief has declined in popularity since 1987 (when the figure was 51 percent), the fact that less than a decade ago more than a quarter of the United States believed in either or both of these stereotypes, at least in part, is incredibly troubling. But what’s happening right now with Yiannopoulos is evidence that things have not gotten much better.
It is right to be disgusted by Yiannopoulos’s remarks, but we should not ignore the fact that it was also right to be disgusted by the remarks he made in the past. The self-proclaimed “Trump-sexual” has called feminism “a cancer,” incited a racist Twitterstorm directed at comedian Leslie Jones, and dismissed trans women as “men who are confused about their sexual identities.” These incendiary public remarks made him a free-speech champion and conservative darling to many on the right, when he should have been met with adamant condemnation. It was only when Yiannopoulos publicly espoused his repulsive views on pedophilia that he was met with backlash. Bill Maher has since taken credit for Yiannopoulos’s fall from grace, but his appearance on Maher’s show underscored the normalization of hate speech. Yiannopoulos was invited anywhere and everywhere until he suddenly fit a convoluted notion about homosexuality. While it is correct and justified to criticize Yiannopoulos for his words, the response from conservatives has been frightening. By fitting into one of the longest held, most damaging stereotypes about gay men, Yiannopoulos reinforces the belief that the stereotype bears merit.
On the left, we should be afraid that despite all of the progress that has been made, the thing that brings down a gay conservative icon has more to do with his being gay than any of the inflammatory and horrific hate speech he has engaged in or the alienating and regressive ideals he has championed.
Sam Geiger is a first-year in the College majoring in philosophy and political science.